AUSTIN — The latest chapter in the troubling years-long fight to protect Texas children from mutilation operations occurred at Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton’s office this week.

On Tuesday, Paxton released a letter responding to the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services about the chemical castration of minors and whether it constitutes child abuse, even while his office has yet to respond to an official request for an opinion.

The Issue

At issue are gender mutilation operations. Currently in Texas, medical professionals are allowed to cut off children’s healthy body parts as part of gender surgeries or chemically castrate them through sterilizing cross-sex hormones and puberty blocker drugs.

The issue drew an international spotlight several years ago with the child abuse case of James Younger, a 9-year-old Dallas-area boy whose mother told him he was a girl and wanted to force him—against his father’s wishes—to take sterilizing drugs and eventually be castrated.

Since then, the immediate goal has been simple: outlaw those medical practices in Texas.

Why is This So Difficult?

However, throughout this year, Gov. Greg Abbott and the Republican-controlled state Legislature—led by Speaker of the House Dade Phelan—have continuously rejected efforts to outlaw the operations. Texas Scorecard extensively reported on this saga, detailing Abbott’s and lawmakers’ inaction despite the outcry of parents across the state and the vote of nearly 2 million Republican primary voters to ban the barbaric medical practices.

Texas Scorecard also documented the officials’ subsequent blame game and political circus with the DFPS, which involved Abbott sending the department a letter in August asking them to decide if physically cutting off a child’s healthy body parts is indeed child abuse (they replied that it is), and a subsequent months-long game of hot potato among the department, two state representatives, and now AG Paxton to see if anyone would simply state that chemically disfiguring a child’s body (the far more common method) is also classified as abuse.

And again, Abbott started the current hot potato with the other officials after he repeatedly refused to task the legislature to simply outlaw all of the practices.

”I keep asking myself: Why do we have to work this hard to get our elected officials to protect children in this state?” said James Younger’s father, Jeff, at a press conference earlier this year.

Paxton’s letter Tuesday didn’t exactly help clear any confusion. In the short five-paragraph statement, Paxton recapped the recent correspondences, explained why more than three months after a request for an official opinion came from State Rep. Matt Krause (R–Haslet) that the process was not expedited, then directed DFPS to his other letter on the matter from two years ago.

“To be clear, I trust that DFPS is investigating and taking all appropriate actions against child abuse that may occur through gender reassignment surgery, chemical or surgical castration, puberty blockers, or any other procedure as it relates to children,” Paxton wrote. “To reiterate, the guidance in the 2019 OAG letter and the Governor’s August 2021 request are abundantly clear on this issue, and we stand ready to assist you and your agency in any way.”

Paxton referred to his 2019 letter, when he wrote DFPS to investigate the James Younger matter, though with no apparent results, given the series of events since.

What Now?

Last week, Paxton reiterated that this whole tangled saga could’ve ended months ago if the Republican-controlled state legislature would just approve a state child protection law.

“The Legislature could have addressed this. They failed to even, I think, get a bill out of committee, and I’m not sure why,” Paxton told radio host Mark Davis. “To me, that seems like one of those issues that the Legislature should have taken seriously and, for some reason, it went nowhere in the Legislature.”

Abbott has also been recently asked several times in public interviews why he hasn’t tasked state lawmakers to complete the Texas GOP-priority child protections and if he will do so now, but he has declined to answer. He separately claimed the effort had a “nil” chance of passing Speaker Phelan’s House of Representatives, though House Republicans say they have enough votes.

Meanwhile, Arkansas got the work done: they recently passed a law to prohibit such operations on kids, called the Save Adolescents from Experimentation (SAFE) Act.

As more Texans and state lawmakers are currently admonishing Abbott to reconvene the state Legislature for a fourth session in January—and include the child protection law on his list of priorities—concerned citizens may contact their state representative or the governor.

Jacob Asmussen

Jacob Asmussen is a Senior Journalist for Texas Scorecard. He attended the University of Mary Hardin-Baylor and in 2017 earned a double major in public relations and piano performance.